If the shoes fit…

As a child I loved imaginative play, including playing ‘shoe shops’ where I would gather every pair of shoes in the house and try them on for size. My brother’s rubber soled shoes were my favourite, because they were what the ‘Famous Five’ wore on their adventures. With my footsteps silenced by rubber, I felt I was there alongside my hero(ine) ‘George’!

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I didn’t take to my mother’s high heels though, and 50 years on, I sometimes catch myself wearing mis-fitting ‘shoes’. Truth is, I tend to be over responsible, so I sometimes step into shoes that aren’t really mine to wear.

The shoe analogy is quite fitting! Too big or too small, too high or too low, shoes can cause a myriad of problems. They can pinch, rub and distort. They can cause us to roll over, stumble and fall. But a well-fitting pair is a different experience altogether, and I believe this is what God holds out to each one of us. As Jesus said:

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. (Matthew 11: 38-39)

So in our daily lives, finding ‘shoes’ that fit, is important.
The odd blister now and then is to be expected, and just like shoes can require ‘breaking in’, we may need to give ourselves time to become comfortable in a new situation.
Seeing how we measure up is a useful guide. If we are having to shoe horn ourselves into an overly narrow fit, or if the shoes we’ve put on are a loose fit, it may be that we need to consider alternatives.

My granddaughter has just learnt to walk, so she’ll soon have her feet measured for her first pair of shoes.

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Care will be taken to make sure they fit well, but include a little bit of growing room. As she gradually fills her new shoes, she’ll be re-measured and re-fitted.
I could do well to apply the same criteria to the ‘shoes’ I consider wearing – how about you?

Truth is… Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.
(Matthew 11:38-40)

Standing tall…

As a child, I was the smallest in the class. I felt swamped by people in other ways too, as I was also bottom of the class. It took me a while to reach my full height in more ways than one, and truth is, I’ve got more ‘growing’ to do!
Haven’t we all…?

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Growing more fully into our true selves is a life-long process. It’s about standing tall, not being a shrinking violet; it’s about taking our place in the sun, not lurking in the shadows. But this doesn’t mean standing on others, or trampling them underfoot.

I’m inspired by Nikesh Mehta, a deputy director of GCHQ (the UK Intelligence Agency) who in a short BBC video speaks about daring to be different. He packs wise words into just a few minutes, and one of the things he suggests is finding a ‘champion’. He says:

It’s really important when you’re breaking new ground to find somebody who will encourage you to be yourself.

I guess we all benefit from having a champion in our life.
I believe that God, as our creator, is our ultimate champion. Having created each one of us with a unique combination of traits and gifts, God is clear about our potential and where our true fulfilment lies.
But God is not a remote controller. Rather, I believe that God can champion us through the words and actions of others. Champions come in many different shapes and sizes, so it can take an open mind and open mind to spot them.

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Champions sometimes confirm and affirm, other times they question and challenge, but always with our best interests at heart. It may be that they have the perspective to point out something that’s right under our nose, or maybe we are helped by them ‘being in our boat’ as we ride out a storm, or perhaps we gain courage from their belief in us.

As well as benefitting from champions, we can be champions ourselves. The world is a better place when we stand up for others and stand alongside them.
Life’s too short not to stand tall!

Truth is…  Listen, stay alert, stand tall in the faith, be courageous, and be strong.
(I Corinthians 16:13)

Behind the times…

My impression is that with the millennium, style and makeover programmes were all the rage. Maybe it was something to do with leaving the past behind and putting on the new. I’m not a follower of fashion, but such was their impact, that even I was aware of Trinny & Susannah and Gok Wan being fashionistas!
Stylists advise regularly taking a fresh look at one’s wardrobe to keep it up to date, and it strikes me that an analogy is to be had with our inner lives – what do we cling onto when it really doesn’t fit? What is outdated and needs replacing? What doesn’t really reflect our personality?

Out with the old, in with the new

Past experiences, including childhood circumstances, teenage tribulations and adult adversities, all have the potential to keep us behind the times. Truth is, I can sometimes slip into old thought patterns. Recently a friend commented that I don’t recognise my own value. Bang on, and it reminds me I have a choice. To continue to clothe myself in self doubt and dismiss the affirmation of others, or to step into the present and see myself as my friend sees me, as someone who quietly uses their God-given gifts, often in the back room.

Isn’t this true for all of us, that sometimes the past pulls us back? Echoes from the playground, the classroom, the office, or the clique in the corner, can catapult us back into previous life.  But we needn’t slip back into old thoughts and positions, like donning old, outgrown clothes.
As a child I loved the story of the Elves and the Shoemaker and the picture of the Shoemaker making perfectly fitting new outfits for the Elves.

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In a sense this is what God does for us today. Renewed and resourced, we can put on our true colours and be even more our true selves. Maybe for some it’s having the courage to try the ‘next size up’ in an area of life to see how it feels, while for others it may be to try something different.
As Gok says:

It’s all about the confidence

No more being behind the times then, in our inner lives!

Truth is… Baptised… you are clothed, so to speak, with the life of Christ himself. (Galations 3:27)

Lost for words…

There have been several times when I’ve been at a loss for words – I’ve opened a blank Word document and begun writing, and at some point later, discovered that all my words have been lost. Sometimes this is my own fault – I’ve forgotten to ‘save’, while other times it’s a fault lying in the computer.
My response has varied from ‘it’s a crying shame’ through to ‘if at first you don’t succeed…’

It reminds me of choices, and the tracks we take.

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At times I make wrong choices, some of which are my own fault, while others result from ignorance. My errors are echoed in the words of an Anglican prayer of confession, in the line:

God, we have sinned… through ignorance, through weakness, through our own deliberate fault

So, what do we then do?
Do we keep looking back to the past, with guilt or regret?
Do we try to re-write what cannot be re-written?
Or do we ask, as the prayer continues:

forgive us all that is past, and lead us out of darkness to walk [in] light

Truth is, I sometimes struggle with taking a fresh start and walking in the light. The darkness of regret pulls me back and weighs me down, and I struggle to believe I am forgiven by God.
Negative self-talk keeps us in the dark, but choosing to learn from the past and to put right what we can, leads us into the light.

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So, the choice is ours – to remain paralysed as miserable sinners, or move forward, forgiven and freed by God.
My head tells my heart to believe in God’s compassion, and so I’m going to choose the latter.
The fresh start that God offers, leaves me lost for words!

Truth is… Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come  2 Corinthians 5:17

Keeping in time…

Keeping in time isn’t something I find easy. That’s why I don’t play an instrument!
While the musical ability to keep in time isn’t essential in everyday life, in other ways, keeping in time is important.

Keeping in time with the beat of our Creator makes for a more harmonious life. When we come in at the right time, with the right power behind the note, we will be able to play the part that has been written especially for us. We will be part of a whole, part of the composition orchestrated by God.

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There’s something comforting about a beat. It takes us to the heart of the matter, which I believe, is that we each matter to God.

A vivid memory from my childhood, is of a bereft puppy who found comfort in the ticking of a travel clock placed under its mat. I was told this was because it resonated with memories of its mother’s heartbeat.
Are we not the same? Truth is, I feel bereft at times, but if I keep close to God, there’s a heart-felt union.

God’s beat is steady, unwavering even when we make a mess of things.
It’s been said that there’s nothing we can do that makes God love us less, and nothing we can do that makes God love us more. God’s love is unchanging. Like a metronome, it sets the rhythm and helps us keep in time.

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If we can listen for the beat of God’s heart, we will find ourselves deeply connected with God. As St Augustine said:

“Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you”

This connection is what enables us to become our true selves. It is the source of courage, of wisdom, and of selfless compassion. Attuned, we will be able to move in time with God’s Spirit. The song that comes to mind is Graham Kendrick’s ‘Teach me to dance’, so in my head I’m singing

…Teach me to move in the power of your Spirit
Teach me to walk in the light of your presence
Teach me to dance to the beat of your heart…

Truth is… Come near to God, and he will come near to you. (James 4:8)

Four candles…

If you’re familiar with The Two Ronnies (a UK comedy) you’ll know the humour contained in the words ‘four candles’.
In the sketch, a hardware shop keeper and customer become increasingly frustrated by misunderstandings. Word play and homophones result a series of wrong items being proffered, including ‘four candles’ rather than the required ‘fork handles’.

Something similar has happened to me. Last year we had exterior work undertaken to improve access to our home. Late one morning, one of the team tapped on the door and asked if he could borrow a fork.

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Handing him a garden fork, he broke into laughter and said “I meant a fork to eat my pasta lunch with!”
The incident caused a lot of hilarity that day, and I still laugh when I think about it.

We all misunderstand things at some point. Sometimes it can inject humour into a situation, but other times it can send us round in circles.
I believe that our inner compass directs us to look for God, know God, love God and be at peace. But how often do our misunderstandings of the nature of God lead us to avoid God, reject God, fear God and be discontent?

The Jesuit priest, Gerry Hughes, defined sin along the lines of

‘not letting God be the God of tenderness, love and compassion that God is’

My life was profoundly changed by these words. As a vulnerable 7-year-old in an austere convent boarding school, I had been led to believe that God was an angry wrathful character who tolerated no mistakes. It was a massive misunderstanding, and thank goodness, I later encountered a completely different image of God. A God who delights in each one of us, and who longs for us to become our personal best through God’s fresh starts, encouragement, nudges, and affirmation.

So I’m reminded to keep checking that I’m on the right track, and when I’m not, to realign myself.
Maybe I’ll light four candles, remembering that we are each loved by God – Father, Son and Spirit…

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Truth is… Neither death nor life, neither the present nor the future – there is nothing in all creation that will ever be able to separate us from the love of God.
(Romans 8: 38-39)

 

Spot the difference…

Hearing Dog Marshall had his first bus ride with me this week. The driver initially questioned his presence, but as soon as I pointed to his ‘Hearing Dog’ jacket, he was welcomed aboard!

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What we wear says a lot about ourselves. Uniforms are obvious examples. They allow us to identify someone’s job and their position. When I was a student nurse our caps had one, two or three stripes denoting how many years training were under our belts!
Mufti isn’t a word commonly used nowadays, but what we wear off-duty can communicate a lot too. We use clothes to reflect our personality, or present the image we would like others to see.

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As a deaf person I look for information in someone’s appearance. It gives me clues about what might be important to the person, and what interests they might have.  What do they look like they’ve just been doing, where might they be going to, what stage of life may they be at, and so what kind of things might they start talking about? It enables me to prepare myself for a conversation and attune to words they may use. Being deaf requires the rapid processing of visual information…
However, there is a danger, and that’s making misassumptions. I guess we all make rapid evaluations of people, but it can be easy to get it wrong. Hence

‘never judge a book by its cover’

Truth is, regrettably I have done this. The tough looking guy who looked anything but a gentle giant, the marathon runner who looked like they’d find a stroll in the park tough going, the graduate who without mortarboard and gown, took me by surprise. Whoops, whoops and whoops.
It reminds me to hold lightly to first impressions, and to spot the difference between outer appearances and inner qualities, and to look for the gems within everyone.
Yes, what we wear says a lot about us, but it’s never the whole story. So no more jumping to conclusions, and mistaken identities…

Truth is… If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives.
2 Corinthians 4:6-7

Behind the scenes…

Recent events have reminded me that just because we can’t see something happening, doesn’t mean that it’s not happening!
People I know are in various stages of waiting – waiting to move house, waiting to hear the outcome of an interview, waiting for something to happen. Waiting can be hard.
It’s hard when there’s not much we can do, other than ‘sit back and wait’.
It’s hard when the only answer to ‘how long’, is ‘as long as a piece of string’.
It’s hard when we fear we may have been forgotten.
But a front door will open, a job will be found, and ‘it’ will happen – even if different to what was expected.

My wait for a Hearing Dog has recently come to an end. Marshall isn’t the Labrador I was hoping for, but as a spaniel he’s a much better fit in our small home and on my small lap!

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Being different to what was expected, he reminds me that I don’t always know best.
I’m also reminded that we often have no idea what’s going on behind the scenes.
Marshall is just over two years old, which means that for all this time his training as an Assistance Dog has been going on – even though I had no inkling!

As a believer, I see God as the producer, director and prompt of our story – but it’s not a play, it’s for real.
Sometimes we will be on cue, but other times the scripts we write for ourselves mean that we lose the plot. Maybe our self-doubts or our self-interests, our hurts or our arrogance, nudge us to be other than our true character.
The good news is that even this doesn’t mean that the curtain falls and it’s over.

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The story can be amended, but we need to respond to God’s prompts – which can be challenging and often include forgiveness. That’s why it’s good to regularly return to the original script and realign ourselves.

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To quote a prayer I return to regularly:

You God, promised us nothing by way of success, recognition, possessions or reward. ‘These things will come at the right time when you walk with me’, you said.
(Iona Community)

So much goes on behind the scenes…

Truth is… You will hear His voice behind you, saying ‘This is the way, walk in it’. (Isaiah 30: 21)

Nudges…

I haven’t been writing recently as I’ve been busy bonding with a new partner.
Just over a month ago I had the news that a possible ‘match’ had been found for me, and the invitation to meet him…

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Yes, ‘him’ is a dog.
I’m deaf, and I’ve been waiting for an Assistance Dog for over two years, so imagine my delight at the prospect of a first meeting to see if there was a spark between us!
There was, and with the basics in place, ‘Marshall’ moved in and a trusting relationship is resulting.
Truth is, I’m learning a lot from him…

A successful partnership has trust at its core. A Hearing Dog trusts a deaf person to notice and respond to what it is communicating through its nudges, and the person trusts the dog to be with them 24/7. Like any meaningful relationship, it’s rooted in trust.
Isn’t this what God longs for us? That we trust God to be with us, and respond knowing that our best interests are at heart.

For Marshall and me, the nudges are all important. Marshall has been trained to nudge my leg with his nose and lead me to what needs my attention.

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His nudges are gentle yet firm, and always for a reason. He urges me to follow him, and in doing so, I find out what I need to know.
Isn’t this the way of God? That if we respond to the nudges we sense, we will discover more of what life is about.
For in doing what we have been gifted to do, and in being who we are blessed to be, we will find connection and fulfilment.

It is true that:

in giving we receive

Giving is about filling the space that has our name on it.
Marshall does this – and without looking for the approval of others. My affirmation of him is sufficient. But he only receives this because he keeps close to me, and senses my affection.
Isn’t this the same for us? If we are to sense deep affirmation and love, we need to keep close to God.

Truth is…. There is more happiness in giving than in receiving. (Acts 20:35)

 

What on earth…

In the last few weeks several people have shared with me, their uncertainty as to what on earth they should be doing. Life seems to be raising lots of ‘what/where/when’ questions.

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Truth is, I ask myself the same questions. I don’t have a recognised job, but I am occupied from dawn to dusk; I don’t receive much in the way of recognition, but deep down I think I am doing the right thing; I don’t have promotions to secure, but does this really matter?
Years ago, I worked for the Iona Community, and a line from one of the liturgies imprinted itself on my mind:

You [God] promised us nothing by way of success, possessions, recognition, or reward.
‘These things will come at the right time when you walk with me’ you said.

‘God’s timing’ isn’t about some puppeteer pulling strings, but about us being receptive and responsive, no strings attached. It’s not about bargaining, but believing.

So, what are some answers to ‘what on earth’ questions?

First, I believe that God’s approach to our road trip through life, is often different to ours. I’m the kind of person that likes to know where I’m going and how, but God seems to favour last-minute arrangements.

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And for good reason. It gives God positive opportunities to provide for us. It’s not for nothing, we are urged to pray ‘Give us today our daily bread’ Matthew 6:11
‘What on earth’ is about putting our gifts, abilities, and resources to best use. It’s not about recognition or reward, but filling the gaps we see and finding fulfilment in this.

Next, I believe that we hold within us, the answers to our ‘What on earth’ questions. Other people can listen, reflect back, and encourage, but we have to recognise God’s day by day itinerary for ourselves.
A piece of advice that I follow, is that when unsure of what you’re meant to be doing, go back to God’s last clear signpost, and take it from there.

Third, I believe that when we feel we’ve hit ‘the wall’, it’s not the end of the road.

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Maybe something was right for us when we first set out, but now the landscape has changed.  Or maybe we made a misguided choice to begin with. Whatever, I believe that nothing is beyond the touch of God.
But it’s not a magical touch, it’s an enabling nudge – urging us to become more fully our true selves.

Truth is…  Send your light and your truth, may they lead me. (Psalm 43:3)